Frequently Asked Questions

Question:
I recently received a flowering azalea as a gift. How do I care for it?
Answer:

In the home, place the azalea in a brightly lit, cool location.  An ideal site is one near a window that receives bright light (but no direct sunlight) and temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. 

An important aspect of...

Question:
Dust has accumulated on the foliage of my houseplants. How can I clean the plants?
Answer:

Cleaning houseplants improves their appearance, stimulates growth, and may help control insects and mites.  Large-leaved plants may be cleaned with a mild dishwashing soap solution (add a few drops of dishwashing soap to lukewarm water) and...

Question:
When is the best time to prune oak trees?
Answer:

Winter (December through February) is the best time to prune oak trees in Iowa.  Pruning oak trees in winter greatly reduces the risk of an oak wilt infection. 

Oak wilt is a fungal disease that is lethal to many oaks.  It...

Question:
I have several small evergreens in my yard. Do I need to uncover the evergreens if they get buried in snow?
Answer:

No, there is no need to uncover the evergreens.  The snow will not suffocate the evergreens.  The snow acts like an insulating blanket and protects the evergreens from desiccating winter winds. 

Question:
The foliage on my tulips and daffodils has been damaged by record cold temperatures in early spring. Should I cut off the damaged foliage?
Answer:

Tulip and daffodil foliage is usually present from late winter/early spring to early summer.  The 4 to 6 week period after flowering is especially important.  During this 4 to 6 week period, the foliage is manufacturing food for the...

Question:
What is the proper care for a moth orchid?
Answer:

Lighting Requirements

Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis spp.) are one of the easiest orchids to grow indoors.  Moth orchids grow best in bright, indirect light.  Direct sun may actually harm the foliage.  Ideal sites are...

Question:
What are some good daffodil varieties for forcing indoors?
Answer:

Daffodil varieties that force well indoors include:

  • ‘Barrett Browning’
  • ‘Dutch Master’
  • ‘February Gold’
  • ‘Flower Record’
  • ‘Fortune’
  • ‘Ice Follies’
  • ‘Jack Snipe’
  • ‘Little Gem’...
Question:
How can I germinate buckeye seeds?
Answer:

Gather the fruit (capsules) of the buckeyes as soon as they fall to the ground.  Dry the fruit for 1 or 2 days at room temperature until the capsules split, then remove the shiny, brown seeds. 

The seeds of buckeyes and many tree...

Question:
Which trees and shrubs provide food for birds during the winter months?
Answer:

When attempting to attract birds to the landscape, trees and shrubs that provide food during the winter months are extremely important as natural foods are most limited at this time of year.

Trees that provide food for birds in winter...

Question:
The lower leaves on my African violet have turned yellow and become droopy. What could be wrong?
Answer:

The symptoms suggest the African violet may have root rot.  Root rot symptoms initially develop on the lower leaves.  The lower leaves turn yellow and droop.  As the root rot progresses, affected leaves turn brown and become mushy...

Question:
I recently purchased a ZZ plant. How do I care for it?
Answer:

 The ZZ plant (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) is a tough, easy to grow houseplant.  It tolerates low levels of light, prolonged dry periods, and neglect.  Plants have few insect or disease problems. Zamioculcas zamiifolia...

Question:
How do you force paperwhite narcissus?
Answer:

Paperwhite narcissus are easy to force indoors.   The bulbs can be forced in clear, shallow bowls (no drainage holes) or pots. 

Potting

When forcing paperwhite narcissus in bowls, partially fill the container with...

Question:
What are the brown growths in my ash tree?
Answer:

The brown growths in your ash tree are probably ash flower galls.  Galls are abnormal plant growths induced to form by small insects, mites, or other organisms.  On ash trees, a tiny mite causes the male flowers to develop into roundish...

Question:
Which trees and shrubs have colorful fruit in winter?
Answer:

The drab winter landscape can be brightened with several trees and shrubs with colorful, persistent fruit.

Trees and shrubs with colorful fruit in winter.

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Common Name
Question:
How can I propagate an African violet?
Answer:

African violets are easily propagated by leaf cuttings.  Select a firm, healthy leaf and cut it off with a sharp knife.  Leave 1 to 1½ inches of the leaf stem (petiole) attached to the leaf blade.  Fill a pot with a moistened 50:50...

Question:
How do I care for a ponytail palm?
Answer:

The ponytail palm or elephant-foot tree (Beaucarnea recurvata) is an easy to grow, low maintenance houseplant.  Plant characteristics include a swollen, bulb-like base and long, strap-like leaves which arch out from the stem...

Question:
Are there any bulbs that don't need a cold period when forcing them indoors?
Answer:

Forcing flower bulbs indoors is an excellent way to brighten the cold, gray days of winter.  Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses, and other spring-flowering bulbs can be forced indoors.  After planting, spring-flowering bulbs need to...

Question:
What factors should be considered when purchasing a Christmas tree for the holidays?
Answer:

A few decisions should be made before going out to buy a Christmas tree. Decide where you are going to place the tree in the home. Be sure to choose a location away from heat sources, such as a fireplace or radiator. Also, decide on the size (...

Question:
Which shrubs have attractive bark in winter?
Answer:

One of the most beautiful sights in winter is the bright red twigs of redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) set against a backdrop of newly fallen snow. Native to Iowa, the redosier dogwood grows 6 to 10 feet tall. Several colorful varieties...

Question:
Can hollies be successfully grown in Iowa?
Answer:

American holly (Ilex opaca) and English holly (Ilex aquifolium) are prized for their glossy, green leaves and brightly colored fruit. Sprigs of both hollies are often used in wreaths, centerpieces, and other Christmas...

Question:
When should I plant an amaryllis bulb in order to have it in bloom at Christmas?
Answer:

An amaryllis bulb usually blooms about 6 to 8 weeks after planting.  Plant the amaryllis bulb in early to mid-November for spectacular blooms at Christmas.  To increase your odds of having an amaryllis in bloom at Christmas, pot up one...

Question:
How do I care for a Norfolk Island Pine?
Answer:

The Norfolk Island pine is a popular houseplant.  During the holiday season, many individuals turn their plants into living Christmas trees by decorating them with miniature lights, ribbons, and ornaments.  The Norfolk Island pine...

Question:
Can you list some varieties of paperwhite narcissus?
Answer:

Paperwhite narcissus varieties include:

  • ‘Bethlehem’ (creamy white petals, yellow cup, mild musky fragrance)
  • ‘Chinese Sacred Lily’ (white petals, yellow cup, citrus-like fragrance)
  • ‘Galilee’ (pure white flowers,...
Question:
How can I determine the freshness of a cut Christmas tree?
Answer:

The freshness of cut Christmas trees can be determined with a few simple tests. Gently run your hand over a branch. The needles on a fresh tree will be pliable. Those on a dry tree will be brittle. Another test is to lift the tree by the trunk...

Question:
How do I pot up an amaryllis bulb?
Answer:

When planting an amaryllis bulb, select a pot which is approximately 1 to 2 inches wider than the diameter of the bulb.  The container may be clay, ceramic or plastic, but should have drainage holes in the bottom.  Plant the bulb in...

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